Industrial Safety Training + Services
Gary Yurt has been known to travel the country with six large totes. Inside each one is a piece of his model city. Built to meet the HO Scale used by model railroad builders, the city is Yurt’s pride and joy, and he’s aptly named it the City of Yurtville.
The city is just one of the many tools Yurt and his business, Industrial Safety Training + Services (ISTS), use to conduct industrial safety trainings around the country. The Louisville, Kentucky-based company offers trainings on topics ranging from CPR to OSHA, hazmat cleanup, chemical spills and fire rescue. It also performs safety inspections and develops corporate safety programs.
For Yurt, founding the company was a natural next step in a lifelong safety career. By all indicators, it was a smart one. The company has grown by more than 30 percent each year, and there is an endless stream of new clients asking for ISTS’s expertise and assistance.
Firsthand firefighting experience
Yurt got his start as a volunteer firefighter when he was just 16 years old. Now, 33 years later, he’s still a volunteer.
“When I was a younger firefighter, it taught me commitment, strength, goals and objectives,” Yurt says. It also gave him firsthand experience in fires, hazardous material (hazmat) spills, medical emergencies and shootings, which have informed his safety career.
Yurt enjoyed volunteer firefighting so much that he pursued both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fire and safety from Eastern Kentucky University. The safety side of the industry had more, and better paying, job opportunities, so Yurt took a job advising General Electric on safety. After six years, he moved into the chemical industry and led safety programs for Borden Chemical.
The fire side of the safety industry drew Yurt back, though, and he spent eight years as a local fire chief. In that role, he was able to start ISTS, through which he offered safety consulting to private businesses.
For safety companies like ISTS, explosions aren’t usually a good thing, but when business exploded in 2007 and 2008, it was the good kind of explosion. As companies began downsizing in the Recession, many lost their full-time safety staff. They turned to ISTS on a consulting basis, and to meet the demand, Yurt left his full-time position with the fire department.
A decade later, business is still booming, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing.
Training on tabletops and million-dollar courses
Today ISTS has 10 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees. Roughly half of their time is spent conducting safety trainings.
Often, the ISTS crew uses the City of Yurtville to conduct tabletop trainings, where participants run through a mock disaster using the city model. The tabletop trainings give firefighters, police officers, medical staff, and private industry safety coordinators an opportunity to practice managing disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, major fires, severe weather, chemical spills, medical emergencies and more.
Because Yurtville can be transported in pieces, ISTS takes this training around the country. While the majority of clients are in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, ISTS is not opposed to traveling. Last year it took on a project to conduct 37 training classes throughout the U.S. for a large corporate client.
ISTS helps companies meet the various regulatory compliance requirements set by organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Coast Guard. “The regulations do drive people’s decisions, but I think companies truly want their workers to be safe,” Yurt says.
Two or three times a week, ISTS runs hazmat trainings at a million-dollar training facility it rents from a Middletown fire department. Those trainings offer customers a chance to step into hazmat suits and use top-level equipment to practice responding to dangerous solid, liquid and gas spills.
ISTS is one of only two companies to offer that training in the Louisville area, and it’s become the company’s specialty.
Booming business in the bourbon industry
ISTS has found another niche that is appropriate to its location: ensuring safety at Kentucky’s distilleries.
“We are huge in the distillery industry,” Yurt says. “I’d say we are probably the king of the distillery industry. We are in every major distillery in Kentucky.”
ISTS started working with Jim Beam® and soon took on clients like Heaven Hill Distilleries, Michter’s Whiskeys and Brown-Forman, which makes popular whiskeys like Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.
“Bourbon is selling [like] crazy, and it’s not stopping,” Yurt says. “It’s a worldwide commodity now … and they’re mass producing it, but that comes along with a lot of people, a lot of issues, and it’s been fun to help that industry grow. We’re real proud of how we’ve been able to help them grow as a business.”
In distilleries, the volume of ethylene alcohol poses a fire risk and staff must be trained to lift, twist and bend as they roll large storage drums and pick up packages without getting injured. Like many industries, this one has unique confined space and medical emergency training needs.
In the nine years that ISTS has worked with Jim Beam®, it has trained the company’s in-house emergency response crew to use a company firetruck. One of Yurt’s success stories is that a fire did occur at a Jim Beam® facility and the company’s crew was able to extinguish it on their own.
“We hear a lot when we go back [to a company and] someone says, ‘Hey, we had a downed guy. He was heat stroked, and your skillsets you taught us was the difference between life and death,” Yurt says.
He says sometimes it’s hard to truly explain what he does for a living. Usually, he tells people he helps companies with safety stuff, but ultimately it comes down to saving lives and preventing injuries.
“I pinch myself, and I’m flattered because I was just a little poor guy, grew up in a small part of Louisville, Kentucky,” Yurt says. “I wasn’t supposed to be some business owner, entrepreneur, running a pretty successful safety business, but it turned out that we please our customers, we truly take care of them and they really like our delivery method.”
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